SPORTS WATCH

Keeping sport in perspective

‘Golf is important to me,’McMillan says, but there are other priorities. I want the time with my family and my friends’

TRENT FRAYNE September 12 1994
SPORTS WATCH

Keeping sport in perspective

‘Golf is important to me,’McMillan says, but there are other priorities. I want the time with my family and my friends’

TRENT FRAYNE September 12 1994

Keeping sport in perspective

‘Golf is important to me,’McMillan says, but there are other priorities. I want the time with my family and my friends’

SPORTS WATCH

TRENT FRAYNE

Mom’s apple pie has gone from the game. Avarice abounds, consuming the sports pages. It’s there for the baseball players, the football players, the hockey players, even the kindly old owners. Where have all the flowers gone?

Enter Rob McMillan. This kid is 18 and in mid-August he won the Canadian junior golf championship for the third straight year. Nobody had done that in the 56-year history of the event. And being the national champion, he’d earned a place in the Canadian amateur championship tournament the following week. Except Rob said no, he wasn’t staying around for this national tournament. Instead, he was going home to Winnipeg.

“Golf is my game and it’s important to me, but there are other priorities,” Rob said. “I’m leaving for school next week and I want the time with my family and my friends and my girlfriend.” The school is the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, where Rob has been awarded an athletic scholarship. Academically, he’ll major in education. “I’d like to be a teacher if golf doesn’t pan out,” Rob says. “But right now, it’s college. One step at a time.”

Rob had offers of scholarships from a couple of dozen American universities and chose New Mexico because he feels the golf coach there, John Fields, is an excellent teacher. Rob is a slim fellow of modest stature, five feet, seven inches and 140 lb., blue-eyed and a straight talker. Waiting for him in Winnipeg was the girlfriend he mentioned, Melanie Warkentin, plus 65 or 70 people also waiting to welcome him—grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends gathering at the McMillan home. There, Jim and Cheryl McMillan, Rob’s parents, were celebrating his victory with a barbecue.

Also there was Rob’s brother Darren, who is 22, an assistant pro at the St. Boniface Golf Club in Winnipeg. The oldest McMillan boy, David, is 25 and would have been there, too,

but he was in London, Ont., playing on the Canadian professional tour. Two days earlier, he had driven from London to Hamilton, where the junior championship was played, to provide a familiar family face. No doubt about it, the McMillans are a golfing family. They all play, including Cheryl, at the Pine Ridge course on Winnipeg’s northern reaches.

Patience and self-control are virtues in any sport and especially in golf, a most exasperating game. Still, it was the game Jim McMillan played as a young man and the one he got his boys into because he wanted to be with them while they and his business were growing. Jim builds fibreglass boats. The boys were started young: Rob was 5 when his dad handed him a sawed-off club and showed him how to grip it.

Jim implanted those twin virtues of patience and self-control playing golf with his sons, and his method was simple enough: if the boy made a bad shot and sulked or grew angry or careless over it, he wasn’t permitted to make a shot while he and his dad walked the next hole.

Patient and imperturbable, Rob succeeded early. He won the Manitoba junior title at 15 and, in 1992, at 16, he won the Canadian ju-

nior and juvenile championships, the first time anyone had captured those two the same year. But 1994 has been even better. Rob went to Tottori, Japan, with a Canadian team for the world junior championship. The Canadians finished second to the host country by a single shot over three rounds, were six strokes ahead of Spain and nine in front of the United States. Rob won the individual competition with a two-stroke victory over Japan’s top player.

Back home in mid-August, Rob won his unprecedented third national junior title at the Chedoke club in Hamilton in the foothills of an oversized lump that local residents are pleased to call a mountain. This mountain is somewhat less imposing than the Rockies, but it’s still no place for heart patients. Legend has Sir Edmund Hillary peering up a startling incline from the 15th tee and muttering: “No way I’m going up there!”

Anyway, Rob shot rounds of 67, 68, 69 and 69, actually wresting victory from home-town favorite Jeff Ollinger by remembering the patience his father had preached years earlier. On the final round, and paired with Ollinger, Rob was trailing by three shots after eight holes. On the ninth he drilled his second shot off a tree branch onto the green and sank a 35-foot putt for an eagle. When Ollinger got involved in the trees and took a bogey, Rob had caught him.

He knew he had been lucky. “I’d been far too aggressive on the front nine,” he said. “I knew I had to be patient if I was going to beat Jeff.”

So he was patient on the back nine and the young men reached the 18th tee dead even, both six under par for the tournament. Each hit the final green with his second shot, Jeff a mere five feet from the cup, Rob nearly 20 feet away.

“I was glad I got to putt first,” Rob said. “I knew if I made it I’d put the pressure on him.”

He sighted his long curling putt on a large green encircled by spectators and then, giving a tug to a faded blue cap, he calmly tapped his ball on a right-to-left route into the cup.

He was right about the pressure shifting to his opponent. There’s an old saying in golf: “First in wins.” Jeff took long moments over his five-footer. When he sent his ball on its ride, it slid gently past the rim.

Rob is serious about golf but not about himself. The ball he used on that final round was destined for the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s museum and hall of fame at the Glen Abbey course in Oakville, Ont., to commemorate Rob’s unique three-time feat.

“It has a blue identifying mark,” an association official told a throng near the 18th green for the victory ceremony. “It has Maxfli DDH 100 on it.”

“There’s a tree mark on it, too,” Rob said wryly, reflecting on the eagle that got him back into the match.

Rob had his week at home before taking off for New Mexico. Then he set off by car. He wasn’t alone. His dad, Jim, decided he might as well, you know, help with the driving, right? So he went, too.